tv 60 Minutes CBS March 15, 2015 7:00pm-8:01pm EDT
captioning funded by cbs and ford >> pelley: how many of you have been declared dead by the federal government? all of you. 86 million names are on a list called the death master file. if your name is on it, the social security administration has declared you dead, and shared that with banks, law enforcement, and many government agencies you might depend on. you couldn't get access to your bank accounts. you couldn't get a credit card. how did you live? >> well, for a time, i lived in my car. >> martin: these marines are two weeks into a grueling infantry officer course. >> if he shows pain, finish him. >> martin: major scott cuomo says every one of these men has suffered some kind of injury. >> there's not a guy here right
now that's not hurting in some way, shape, or form. one of them, i think, broke his nose last friday. nobody cares. >> martin: is he going to fight today? >> nobody cares. >> martin: so, how would a woman do in there? >> if she comes to this course and gets to this point, she'll be treated just like the men are, so we'll see. >> martin: for the first time in its history, the marine corps has opened up this punishing course to women. can they pass the test? have a look and judge for yourself. >> stahl: damian aspinall likes to play tug of war with tigers and pet rhinos on his very own wildlife refuge in england. but gorillas are his best buddies, and wrestling with them is his favorite pastime. >> now, the tricky thing is getting out. >> stahl: but damian is controversial because of his efforts to move his zoo-born gorillas to the wilds of africa, a project conservationists
warned us might not go well. >> i'm steve kroft. >> i'm lesley stahl. >> i'm morley safer. >> i'm bill whitaker. >> i'm scott pelley. those stories tonight on "60 minutes." in my world, wall isn't a street. return on investment isn't the only return i'm looking forward to. for some every dollar is earned with sweat, sacrifice, courage. which is why usaa is honored to help our members
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>> pelley: it was benjamin franklin who wrote, "nothing can be said to be certain but death and taxes." turns out, with taxes, that may be true, but not so much with death. in america, the job of ultimately accounting for who is dead or alive belongs to the social security administration which compiles something called the death master file. there are about 86 million names on this national list of the deceased. and it's deadly serious business because when you're added to the file, that means that banks, the i.r.s., medicare, law enforcement and the like scratch you out of existence. but we found that the death master file is often fatally flawed. a lot of people who pass on don't get on the list, which
costs taxpayers billions of dollars in fraudulent payments to people standing in for the departed. and then, there are those who are on the death master file who are very surprised to hear that they're dead. how many of you have been declared dead by the federal government? all of you. you're looking pretty well to me. this would be a séance, except these are living, breathing americans that we conjured up from around the country, all declared dead by the social security administration. don pilger passed away when he tried to report the death of his wife. this is a form from the social security administration. the idea was you were going to call this number and essentially report that your wife had passed. >> don pilger: exactly. and that's what i did on the following monday. eight days later, i went to access my bank account and it was... they kept saying, "invalid pin." so i went to the bank and i give
the lady the problem i was having. she typed my numbers into the computer and she grabbed my hand, she says, "mr. pilger, i don't believe this. they reported you deceased and not your wife." >> pelley: kristina pace's life was cut short at an early age. >> kristina pace: i was in college, i walked into the bank to open up an account and same thing. "we can't help you." "well, why?" "you're coming up as deceased. you need to go to social security office." and i did. but just randomly, years later it would come up. i'd want to get a car or something. "oh, no. oh, let me guess. i'm dead?" so... >> pelley: betty denault was summoned to her social security office where the computer read like an epitaph. >> betty denault: and she pointed on the screen up in the corner and it said, "d.o.d." and i said, "what does d.o.d.
mean?" and she said, "date of death." and i said, "well, how did you come up with this?" and she said, "all it takes is somebody to input on the computer the wrong numbers. and it just makes a big difference, of course." >> pelley: most people never find out how it happens, but when the federal computer says you're dead, you might as well be. the terrible news is relayed by the government to banks and credit agencies. judy rivers told us she had $80,000 in her accounts, but when she tried to use a bank card at a store, they assumed she was an identity thief. you couldn't get access to your bank accounts. you couldn't get a credit card. how did you live? >> judy rivers: well, for a time, i lived in my car. and i couldn't get an apartment. i had my debit cards, which were, of course, no good. i used one without knowing the consequences, and was actually taken to jail and questioned because they thought i was an identity thief. >> pelley: you ended up
arrested? ended up living in your car because of all of this. >> rivers: for six months. >> pelley: you had been eliminated from the human race. >> rivers: cyber ghost. >> pelley: cyber ghost. >> pilger: cyber ghost. >> pelley: judy rivers now haunts a borrowed camper in alabama, and while her finances were ruined, she found that the government makes a tidy profit selling the death master file to credit agencies. so, word of her death was nearly immortal in dozens of databases, and it came back again and again. she protested to a credit agency called chexsystems for what seemed like an eternity. >> rivers: finally, chexsystems responded to me and told me to send my information in and they would consider it, after i had sent it to them over 20 times. >> pelley: they would consider whether you were still alive. >> rivers: correct. >> pelley: we looked in the alabama vital records office for
rivers' death notice, but it's not there. no one seems to know how she got in the federal death master file. god may judge the quick and the dead, but it's the states that collect the data. they pass it along to social security, and there is plenty of room for error. record bureaus get death notices from doctors, hospitals, funeral homes, or families, and every state has its own rules. perhaps because the dead don't vote, many of the states don't spend much keeping tabs on them. this is the state of alabama vital records vault. it is a place so secure that you need a key and a fingerprint to get inside. but once in here, the technology becomes pretty 19th century. these are death certificates from 1912, for example. all in all, there are 17 million paper records in here. now, the state of alabama is moving toward an electronic system, and it's about 60% of the way there.
but there's so little funding around the country for that kind of transition that there are about a dozen states in america that do not have a statewide electronic filing system for death records. how accurate is the death master file? >> patrick o'carroll: i guess, the best way to say it is as accurate as it can be. >> pelley: patrick o'carroll is the social security administration's inspector general. his office investigates how the death master file is used and abused. >> o'carroll: right now, the death master file has in it about 86 million records in it and it gets about two million records every year from the states. and we're probably, as with everything else, as strong as the weakest link, in terms that some states are reporting electronically have very good data. and then with other states, it's done on a more haphazard level. so again, there's going to be some falling through the cracks there. >> pelley: but o'carroll told us that live people "falling
through the cracks" isn't what keeps him up at night. the much more costly problem is in the millions of americans who do die and are not recorded. your office found that social security had no death data for six and a half million people over the age of 111. do you really believe that there are six and a half million people over the age of 111 in this country? >> o'carroll: no, and in fact, that's why we did the audit on it. what we were finding is that people that were over 112 years of age were opening up bank accounts, and it got us suspicious. and we found that 6.5 million was not recorded as being deceased in ssa's records. >> pelley: how many people are over the age of 111 in this country? >> o'carroll: i'm thinking ten. >> pelley: most federal agencies depend on the death master file, so if a death isn't listed federal payments just keep coming. we wondered what that would add up to during the course of a year, but it turns out, no one in the federal government is
keeping an overall count. the best we could come up with was a few reports from individual agencies. for example, the department of agriculture paid farm subsidies and disaster assistance to more than 170,000 dead people over six years. that came to $1.1 billion. the office of personnel management paid dead federal retirees a little over a billion. and in 2010 alone, the i.r.s. paid more than $400 million in refunds to the dead. social security doesn't know how many retirement and disability checks are cashed by the relatives of the dead, like sandra kimbro. >> sandra kimbro: i'm a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and now a felon. >> pelley: like a lot of people, she took in her aging, ill mother, and had a joint bank account with her. when her mother died, the disability benefits kept coming.
when did she die? >> kimbro: she died... 1984. >> pelley: when she died, did you report her death to social security? >> kimbro: i did not. >> pelley: why not? >> kimbro: i thought perhaps it would have been taken care of by the funeral director at some point. >> pelley: were you surprised that these benefits kept coming to you? >> kimbro: no, not initially because i had had a conversation with my mom prior to her death that i would be entitled to the benefits. so i had just assumed and went along with that, thinking that i was entitled. >> pelley: and what did it come to? >> kimbro: over a 30-year period, $160,000. >> pelley: though she took the checks for three decades otherwise, sandra kimbro is no one's idea of a thief. she and her husband had good full-time jobs through retirement, a solid middle class life, and raised two children. but then came an unexpected call from social security. the investigator from social
security must've asked where your mother was? >> kimbro: oh, well, i explained to him immediately. i didn't try to say that she was alive. i said that she was deceased. >> pelley: social security suspected as much because it is using a clever new tool. >> o'carroll: so, we go to medicare and see if anybody hasn't been to medicare for three years. and if they haven't been, we then, you know, try to go out and make a phone call to them, see if they're, you know, still here. also, we look at people that reach 100 years of age, and try to reach out and see if they're, you know, doing well. >> pelley: sandra kimbro's mother would have been 93 and hadn't used medicare in 30 years. kimbro was charged with theft, pled guilty, and is now looking at at least a year in prison. she spoke with us, she said, to warn others. >> kimbro: i've spent 66 years no criminal history. haven't done nothing wrong lived a good life, did everything i was supposed to do, be a law-abiding citizen, and succumbed to this human error.
and this is where i am. and obviously, "felon" is not compatible with the other three things that i said, but it is my reality. >> pelley: inspector general patrick o'carroll says that social security is managing about 150 convictions a year, a fraction of the total. but it adds up to about $55 million in fraud. >> o'carroll: what we're trying to do is get the word out there, is, if you do take it and you're not supposed to do it, we're going to find you, we're going to arrest you, and we're going to get the money back. >> pelley: over the last decade, o'carroll has made 70 recommendations to social security to reform the death master file. but he says there's little sense of urgency. is part of the problem here that, in washington, $50 million or $100 million a year just isn't a very big number? >> o'carroll: it's interesting you bring that up, because i deal in very big numbers. about $2 billion go out every day. so, when you start taking a look at percentages of $2 billion
that's what to you, me, to a general taxpayer is going to be extremely large amounts of money-- really, percentage-wise, is small compared to what's going out every day. >> pelley: as for the living who've been declared dead, social security told us "we work very hard to correct errors when we learn of them." the agency said that its error rate is only one third of 1%. but that still adds up to about 9,000 americans killed off by the government each year. for them, it can be a long road to resurrection. it took judy rivers five years. and today, she carries a few credit cards, and something else. you carry a letter around with you... >> rivers: all the time. >> pelley: ...everywhere you go. what does it say? >> rivers: it's from the social security office, and i have it updated once a month. and it says that... who i am what my social security number is, that i have been mistakenly
declared as deceased in the past, and that that is not correct, and i'm alive and well, or at least alive. >> pelley: and you have that updated every month? >> rivers: every month. >> pelley: why? >> rivers: because when you get to about three months, people look at the date and say, "well, this is old. you know, you could've died since then." >> pelley: tomorrow, the u.s. senate's homeland security and governmental affairs committee will hold a hearing on all of this. senators ron johnson and tom carper will introduce a bill to ensure that improper payments to the dead stop, and the living stay off the death master file. >> cbs money watch update brought to you in part by: >> glor: good evening. g.e. is selling g.e. capital in australia-new zealand to an
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>> pelley: now, cbs news correspondent david martin on assignment for "60 minutes." >> martin: remember that old recruiting ad the marines are "...looking for a few good men"? well, now, they're looking for a few good women as well. the armed services have been ordered to open all their ground combat units to women by the end of this year, or else give the secretary of defense a good reason why not. for the marines, that means accepting female volunteers into their infantry officer school to
see if they can make it through the grueling three-month course. you would expect the training to be tough, but we had no idea how tough until we saw it. the marines have kept most of what happens in that course secret so anyone going through it doesn't know what to expect. but they opened it up for us so you could see what it takes to become a marine infantry officer-- male or female, it doesn't matter, because the demands are the same. can women do it? take a look and judge for yourself. marine second lieutenants charging into battle on their knees. this drill comes two weeks into the 86-day infantry officers course and it's unlike any training we've ever seen. they're on their knees to slow things down enough so as not to cause serious injury. it looks almost prehistoric, but marine general george smith says it's what combat's all about. >> george smith: we're talking about actively seeking out and locating and closing with, and
then destroying the enemy. >> martin: general smith is in charge of an experiment that would put women into the middle of that scrum, which, until now, has been entirely a man's arena. second lieutenant melissa cooling wants to be one of those women. but before she can start infantry training, she has to pass what's known as the combat endurance test, a 14-hour marathon of physical pain and mental stress which includes everything from basic pull-ups to land navigation and an obstacle course, all of that spread out over 16 miles. she knows she's facing longer odds than any of the men here. in the last two years, 20 women have gone before her and only one has passed the test. you knew what the odds were. >> melissa cooling: if you look at the odds all the time, you're never going to achieve anything. >> martin: so it didn't bother you that, in all the previous classes, exactly one woman had made it through that first day? >> cooling: no, it doesn't
bother me because she's not me so... and none of the other women are me. i've tried not to think about it as, "well, i'm a girl and i'm going to perform like all the other girls." i just try and focus on performing like melissa. >> martin: at 5'2", cooling is shoulder-high to the men, but she's a born competitor, most recently as a triathlete. she also happens to have a degree in biomedical engineering and a brother who preceded her into the marine corps. she is one of five women starting out on this day's combat endurance test, but the only one who would let us identify her. cooling may have to climb to get to the pull-up bar, but once there, she can gut them out. pull-ups are supposed to be the bugaboo of all women because of upper body strength. >> cooling: yeah, that's one of the myths that's out there-- "women can't do pull-ups." but we have it on video now; we can do them. >> martin: but can they perform all the tasks required of an infantry officer?
that's the question general smith is trying to answer. >> smith: this is the most physically demanding job, if you will, in our... in our united states marine corps. >> martin: does size matter? >> smith: i think size does matter, especially when you're talking about the ability to march under load. >> martin: how much does a marine carry when he's got his combat load on? >> smith: well, it's mission- dependent, but i will tell you that it very likely exceeds 100 pounds, and probably gets up above 130 pounds in some cases. >> martin: that's more than cooling weighs, but there are no allowances for size. >> smith: we could make the bars lower, david, but that's really... that's really not the issue. the issue is, the realities of combat aren't going to change based on gender. the enemy doesn't care whether you're a male or a female. >> martin: and neither does the weather. with temperatures in the upper 90s, some of the men are dropping from the heat.
this combat endurance test is taking place on the hottest day of the summer, and for cooling it's made worse by injury. >> cooling: i rolled my ankle at the very... ( laughs ) at the very beginning. it was... it definitely stunk. >> martin: so you just ignored it? >> cooling: yep. and you just ignore it and you keep moving. >> martin: others are fighting muscle cramps. but the most difficult part of the test for everyone is the mental challenge of making good decisions despite physical exhaustion. they're not allowed to speak to each other and never know what's coming next, a written exam or a 25-foot rope climb. >> smith: fundamental to that course is that sense of uncertainty, much like combat. >> martin: do they know what they have to do to make it through that first day of the combat endurance test? >> smith: they don't. >> martin: so how do they know how well they're doing? >> smith: they don't. that's part of the uncertainty. >> martin: they don't even know how much time they have, which makes stopping long enough to
eat or drink a calculated risk. >> cooling: i made some poor decisions by not eating more during the test. >> martin: and that's part of the test. >> cooling: that was the biggest part of the test that day, for a lot of people, because i know there were a lot of guys in my group that are p.t. studs, and they went down with heat cases and cramps and whatever else because they weren't eating enough. >> martin: for most marines, and especially the women, the make- or-break point in the combat endurance test is the obstacle course. some of the men are big enough and strong enough to sail through it; others are struggling. melissa cooling gets off to a good start. >> cooling: i just looked up at it and i was like, "all right, i'm definitely going to get this. this is mine." and i made it mine. and i did a little happy dance in my head. >> martin: but her strength is giving out, and each obstacle seems more daunting than the last. she has to will herself up and over.
>> cooling: well, i stared at it for probably a solid minute, you know, working up some courage to just go for it. >> martin: she finally gets her legs up. but then, she comes to the toughest obstacle-- that 25-foot rope. >> cooling: i was a little nervous about the rope because there is a part of it, too that's your grip strength. >> martin: she gets half-way up, but can go no higher. >> cooling: so, my first thought was, "oh, crap." so, i tried to grab onto the rope so it didn't hurt when i fell. and then i looked up. and when you look up after you fall, it looks like it's a million-foot rope after that. >> martin: how many more times did you try to get up? >> cooling: i think there were two more times, and that was it. >> martin: starting before dawn, we hiked all 16 miles of the combat endurance test with major george flynn. by the end of the day, 20 men had dropped out. and how did the women do? >> george flynn: they pushed themselves. always saw a max effort. and they hung in there. >> martin: but did any of them
make it through? >> flynn: no, they did not. >> martin: that's the combat endurance test at quantico virginia. >> where's our first victim? >> where's our first victim!? >> martin: we also traveled to camp lejeune in north carolina to see another experiment the marines are conducting, this time on the enlisted side. female privates straight out of boot camp are now given the chance to volunteer for the enlisted infantry course. >> nisa jovell: that's the chance of a lifetime. and if i know i can physically make those requirements and get myself there, i thought, "why not?" >> martin: nisa jovell is a powerful enough athlete that she tried out for her high school football team, but was not allowed to play. judging how she handles the obstacle course, you'd have to say that school missed a bet. you pretty much aced it. >> jovell: thank you, sir. >> martin: and you were just muscling it through. >> jovell: ( laughs ) i was. >> martin: and then you get to the end and you got to go up that rope. >> jovell: yep. muscled that, too. >> martin: jovell is one of 122 women who have made it through the enlisted course.
>> jovell: private jovell, second platoon. >> bragging rights, right there. let's go. >> martin: that's a 34% success rate, compared to zero for the female officers. but the enlisted course is not as demanding. for one thing, nisa jovell didn't have to climb that rope with her pack on, the way melissa cooling did. now you've been through this training, what's your own opinion about whether women can serve in the infantry? >> jovell: my opinion would be that it would be pretty difficult for them. we're just... unfortunately, physically, we are not built for it. and i'm not saying that we can't do it, what they do, but our body structure is different. >> martin: so what is it really, physically, that you think? >> jovell: honestly, it was really just carrying a lot of weight, and learning how to move as fast as you can with it. >> martin: it's what, bone density that wears you down over time? >> jovell: it's mainly hips that affect us. >> martin: hips? >> jovell: for females, yes. >> martin: how does that play out on a 15k or a 20k? >> jovell: we had to learn how
to put on the pack a certain way to, like, relieve the stress off of our hips. so the hip problem is definitely a big deal. >> martin: back at quantico, the second lieutenants who made it through the combat endurance test, all of them men, are now two weeks into the 86-day infantry officer course. >> if he shows pain, finish him. >> martin: by now, major scott cuomo says every one of them has suffered some kind of injury. >> scott cuomo: there's not a guy here right now that's not hurting in some way, shape, or form. >> martin: well, you can see it. >> cuomo: one of them, i think broke his nose last friday. nobody cares. >> martin: is he going to fight today? >> cuomo: nobody cares. >> martin: how would a woman do in there? >> cuomo: i don't know, sir. we'll see. i mean, she... if she comes to this course and gets to this point, she'll be treated just like the men are, so we'll see. >> martin: we wanted to see what it takes to get through the rest of the course, so we flew into the mountains of the mojave desert in california for the final and toughest part.
85 marines started out two and a half months ago. 59 are left and they are 15 days from graduation. all of them are men, but we're here to see what females would have to endure taking this final exam, marine style. the packs weigh 115 pounds-- not just weapons and ammunition, but all the food and water the marines will need to get them up and back down the steep mountain ridges. we're doing our best to keep up with them, but we're not carrying anything close to the loads they're hauling. there are no trails up here, and no relief from temperatures that hit a high of 110 degrees. >> nicholas boire: misfire. >> martin: nicholas boire, nicknamed "animal," has already been voted best marine in the course. but even he is almost done in. >> boire: today was real tough sir. the climate change really shocks the body, and you're just sucking down water. when you've got a limited amount of it, it really, really beats you down, sir. >> martin: but as the marines
like to say, nobody cares if you're tired and beaten down. >> how long have we had eyes on the enemy? >> martin: somewhere up here there's an opposition force waiting to ambush them. you would expect to find rattlesnakes in a place like this, but bees? they were a relentless enemy going after any drop of moisture they could find on the marines. they only sting if you swat them, but it's hard to resist the urge. sunset brings relief from the heat and the bees, and a chance to sleep if you can find a level patch of ground. when the sun comes up, it's time for a shave and a quick meal before there's another ridge to climb and more opposition forces to outmaneuver. you can measure the toll the relentless pace of the 86-day course has taken on second lieutenant zachary barbero. how big are you? >> zachary barbero: six feet two inches, sir. and about 170 pounds now, sir. >> martin: 170 pounds now. what were you when you started? >> barbero: when i started, i would say i was around 200 pounds, sir. >> martin: you've lost 30 pounds?
>> barbero: just about, sir. >> martin: the marines must decide by the end of this year whether women should serve in the infantry. that leaves just nine months for female marines to prove they can make it through the infantry officer course. would you change anything in that infantry officer course if you found that there was just one... one thing you could do that... to greater assure women getting through? >> smith: david, i think the infantry officer course is designed just right. you look around the globe today. the world is only getting messier and more complex. so, we've got it right at the infantry officer course. >> welcome to the cbs sports update. i'm greg gumbel in new york with the top seeds in the ncaa men's basketball tournament. the overall number-one seed is kentucky in the midwest. it's big east champion villanova
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>> stahl: more americans go to zoos every year than to professional baseball, football, hockey, and basketball games combined. we get to encounter the dangers of the wild from the safety of suburbia. but increasingly, zoos see their mission as not just displaying animals, but also saving endangered species. and that raises an interesting question-- can endangered animals born and bred in captivity be released into the wild? a conservation group called the aspinall foundation is trying to find out. it's run by damian aspinall, a multi-millionaire who owns a chain of casinos in england, but his biggest gamble involves his animals.
they say that the english can be eccentric, but damian aspinall takes the cake. this 54-year-old likes to play tug-of-war with tigers and pet black rhinos. but gorillas are his best buddies, and wrestling with them is his favorite pastime. >> damian aspinall: they're part of my family and i'm part of their family. they see me as an intricate part of their lives. and when i look after these animals, they're my equal. now, the tricky thing is getting out! i'm not allowed to leave. >> stahl: damian gets to do this because he oversees this 500- acre wildlife park that looks like the serengeti, but is in kent, england, surrounding damian's country estates. the zoo was started by his wealthy and no-less-eccentric father, who liked to take a dip in the pool with the tigers and let the gorillas roam about the
grounds. when you were a little boy, were the gorillas your playmates? >> aspinall: yeah, without question, the problem being, of course, that you never had any human friends because no parents would ever let you have a play date. >> stahl: when damian took over the zoo, he set out to save the species-- over 130 critically endangered western lowland gorillas have been bred here more than at any other zoo on earth. also, 30 near-extinct black rhinos, 180 tigers, and 140 rare clouded leopards-- but not to keep them. it wasn't long before damian decided that zoos are immoral; they're jails that lock up the innocent for life. so his goal now is to set all the animals that were born here free. >> aspinall: if i could extinguish all zoos over the next 30 years, including my own, i would. i wouldn't hesitate. >> stahl: and you don't think, as many do, that the zoo animal is an ambassador, and that they
educate the public who then, in turn, become more interested in conservation. >> aspinall: please show me the statistical evidence that zoos educate. and that education that they claim they're doing has helped animals in the wild. there is no evidence, because it's a lie. >> stahl: but if you go to a zoo, you should see the faces of children when they actually see an animal. >> aspinall: but that's so wrong. they should... their face should be one of disgust. that's what's so wrong. we've culturalized them that "oh, those animals are here for our pleasure." they're not. we don't have the right, as a species, to take animals to pleasure our children. that disgusts me. these poor animals. >> stahl: so this zookeeper who hates zoos announced that he was going to send an entire family of zoo gorillas to africa-- a silverback named djala, his five wives, and four infants-- a project no other zoo would even consider. why isn't anybody else doing it? >> aspinall: because they don't believe in it.
you got to understand, we're considered mavericks, you know... >> stahl: you're actually considered a little nutty. >> aspinall: yeah. but that's such a good thing. because it's only the nutty people who ever get anything done in this world. >> stahl: but these giants are actually very fragile. they get stressed and even depressed by change, finding it hard to adapt to new environments, especially the adults. you know, people think "well we're going to send them home to africa." this is home. they were born here. why would they want to go back if they're living a cushy...? >> aspinall: why wouldn't they want to go back? >> stahl: well, because it's cushy here. >> aspinall: but... so you decide that? >> stahl: but you're deciding to send them back. >> aspinall: because that's where they belong. i'm not really deciding anything. they're... for 50,000 years have evolved in this forest. that's surely where they belong, not after 12 years living in... living in a zoo. >> stahl: but isn't it dangerous for the animals to release them into the wild if they've been raised in a place like this where they're pampered and they're fed. how can they survive in the wild? >> aspinall: man always underestimates the intelligence
of wild animals. you have to help them on their way. but if you leave them be they'll pick it up immediately. >> stahl: to help them on their way, damian created gorilla school in his mansion's backyard, where he himself taught these english-born infants survival basics like how to climb a tree and avoid poison berries. still, sending the family of ten gorillas to africa was a massive undertaking. they had to be sedated and couriered-- you couldn't make this up-- by dhl! was that hard for you? you're basically sending your family away. >> aspinall: honestly, no. i'm so proud that they're going where they belong. if i didn't do it, i would not live easy within myself. >> stahl: the gorillas were flown to gabon and taken by raft to this dense forest-- about a million acres that he bought and turned into a national park to protect animals like the western lowland gorillas, whose numbers
keep dwindling due to habitat destruction and poaching. i'm wondering why the poachers even want gorillas. they don't have horns, they don't have ivory. >> aspinall: bush meat. they'll eat the gorillas. >> stahl: they... they are poaching them to... >> aspinall: they'll cut the hands off... >> stahl: ...to eat them? >> aspinall: ...and sell them as ashtrays. the babies are taken for pet trade. >> stahl: to keep them safe, the gorillas were taken at first to an island to acclimate. damian's staff continued to feed them and give them medicines like malaria pills. this wasn't his first time sending gorillas here. he had already sent 12 from his zoo, but they were all babies who hadn't adapted yet to the zoo. he's taken many trips to see how they're doing. he says most of them have survived and multiplied. but on one visit, that he videotaped, he was concerned about one of them, kwibi, who hadn't been seen in a long time. >> aspinall: and i went up the river and called for him.
he obviously heard my call and he came down to the edge of the river. and i jumped out of the boat and i went to see him, and he greeted me with a fantastic gurgle, love gurgle. we sat there together, and he was so sweet, and he introduced me to all his wives. thank you. then, when i wanted to leave, he wouldn't let me leave. he clung onto me very tightly. he wanted me to stay. but you know, i know the best thing for him was for me not to stay, and he's wild and let him be wild. i'll come see you tomorrow okay? all right, i'll come see you tomorrow. >> stahl: looks idyllic, but conservationists we spoke to were critical of damian, some calling his work a vanity project. >> tara stoinski: maybe it makes him feel good. he has a relationship with these animals and he wants to do well for them. and he thinks that taking them back to africa will be doing
that. but it... it's not conservation. >> stahl: tara stoinski is president of the dian fossey gorilla fund, run out of zoo atlanta, home to the largest collection of gorillas in north america. she says returning a handful of zoo animals can't begin to counter the vast numbers that are lost every year, so damian's money would be better spent saving gorillas already in the wild. >> stoinski: we need all hands on deck right now to be conserving wild populations. we need funds to be going into saving these wild places so that the animals that are living there currently can continue to survive. >> stahl: you know, there's just something kind of, i think, in us, intuitively in us, that we want to see these animals roaming free. >> stoinski: i think that humans have a very romantic notion of what the wild is like, and the wild is not a place where it is safe and animals get to roam free and make choices. they have to find food, they have to avoid predators, they have to find mates. and then, you add on top of
that, all of the challenges that humans are imposing, whether it be hunting, habitat loss disease. i think the challenges that these wild populations face are huge. >> stahl: one year after the silverback from kent, djala, and his family were sent to gabon, we went with damian to see how they were coping. >> aspinall: here we are! >> stahl: we snaked down the mpassa river, but there was no sign of djala through the dense vegetation. then, a glimpse of eyes and limbs through the trees. as our boat approached, the females and infants came slowly into the clearing. >> aspinall: they're so calm. it's such a beautiful thing to see! i mean, how happy do they look? >> stahl: but when djala came forward, he didn't look all that happy. >> aspinall: he knows i'm here now. he's protecting his females. he's looking at me. >> stahl: but damian was ecstatic. as they settled on the grass in front of us... >> aspinall: one, two, three
four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. >> stahl: a full house. did you give the baby a name? >> aspinall: that's akou. >> stahl: akou? damian began tossing them coconuts, sugar cane and bananas. >> aspinall: that's tamki. she's calling for some. hey! >> stahl: she keeps wanting more! >> aspinall: you're so silly. she's smart, though, because she get more than anyone else. >> stahl: do you think that you have brought them home? >> aspinall: without any question. yeah. >> stahl: but they weren't totally free yet. damian's idea was to complete this bridge only when he felt they could fend for themselves. >> aspinall: and just over the other side of that bridge is the true wilderness. >> stahl: they don't swim. >> aspinall: no. so, here, they're protected because they're on an island. but once they cross the bridge they'll come across elephants and leopards and other gorillas. djala's going to be, you know, defending his females. he might lose some of his females. it could become very stressful. >> stahl: you mean, other males... >> aspinall: other males, yeah. >> stahl: ... who are there wild... >> aspinall: yes, wild, who want his females. >> stahl: ...will challenge him
for his females. but damian thinks this family is ready, and so he and his crew put the final planks on the bridge. then, he tries to lure the gorillas over with-- but of course-- food. >> aspinall: come on! come on! >> stahl: wouldn't you know it? the females venture out first. and once again, djala follows their lead. djala's going in. >> aspinall: brilliant. >> stahl: oh, my goodness. and look at the babies, the second one. oh, my gosh. >> aspinall: that's wonderful, isn't it? >> stahl: that's one-year-old akou. within an hour, all ten had crossed over. >> aspinall: this is the ultimate goal. >> stahl: the ultimate goal. >> aspinall: this is the holy grail. >> stahl: although they will get on this side and inevitably face dangers that they're not really prepared for... >> aspinall: yeah, they will. the problem will be is when the other males turn up here. they have been quite near in the last few days, so i suspect they are quite near. and i suspect within a few hours, they'll be coming to investigate. >> stahl: oh, boy. >> aspinall: oh, boy.
yeah. >> stahl: if only we could end on an optimistic note. but we can't. a month after the gorillas crossed the bridge, damien's team found all five adult females dead, including tamki, as well as baby akou, an outcome so many of damien's critics predicted. so what does this mean for his experiment? we remembered what he said back in kent. >> aspinall: it may be a disaster. and if it's a disaster and they all die, all those people will jump up and down and say, "he was an idiot." fine. i'm willing to take that. i don't care. i don't seek popularity. i'm the ambassador for these animals. i'm here to protect those animals and give them their chance to go back into the wild. because what i don't believe in is they should spend the rest of their lives in captivity. >> stahl: damian's best guess is that a wild male silverback attacked the family-- killing some on the spot, others dying from injury, infections, or stress. he called it "a hell of a setback," but is determined to
send more gorillas into the wild. >> who would let gorillas be his daughter's playmates? damian aspinall. go to 60minutesovertime.com. sponsored by pfizer. [ female announcer ] hands were made for talking. feet...tiptoeing. better things than the pain stiffness, and joint damage of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. before you and your rheumatologist decide on a biologic ask if xeljanz is right for you. xeljanz (tofacitinib) is a small pill not an injection or infusion, for adults with moderate to severe ra for whom methotrexate did not work well. xeljanz can relieve ra symptoms, and help stop further joint damage. xeljanz can lower your ability to fight infections, including tuberculosis. serious, sometimes fatal infections and cancers have happened in patients taking xeljanz. don't start xeljanz if you have any infection unless ok with your doctor.
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